Authored by Debra Sears in Teaching and Learning
Published on 06-21-2009
Within the last ten years, the use of cell phones in schools has become a major issue. School boards across the country find themselves in the unenviable position of setting policies concerning the use of cell phones in their school districts. They must achieve a difficult balance between the desires of the community they serve and the educational environment and goals of their school.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the Columbine school shooting of 1999, parents have often been the driving force behind the cell phone policies set by their school boards. Their insistence on being able to stay in immediate contact with their children for safety reasons has often pushed the school boards into allowing cell phones in the schools on a daily basis. Parents also argue that, in the event of a crisis or emergency, emergency personnel would be able to reach schools faster since students would be able to call out, potentially saving lives or decreasing serious injuries.
Most educators and administrators agree that cell phones in schools are disruptive to the learning environment. When the phones ring during class, the whole lesson is interrupted while the teacher deals with the student involved. Students have been caught using the cameras in their phones to take pictures of tests to send to their friends, or even taking pictures of other students changing clothes for gym class. This aspect of cell phones, along with text messaging during classes, has increased the disruptive potential of the devices even beyond their original use.
What are considered to be the best cell phone policies in schools today? According to National School Safety and Security Services 81% of school resource officers report that their school districts ban the use of cell phones in school. This seems to indicate that most school boards have not yet given in to public pressure to allow unlimited use of the devices during the school day.
Examining the policies of large city school districts shows a range of cell phone policies. The New York City Department of Education totally banned cell phones in their schools. Students are not allowed to bring them into the buildings. Parents sued the district over the policy, but the State Supreme Court upheld the school district’s ban. New York City is the only major city school district with such a total ban. In Los Angeles schools, the second largest school district, students are allowed to carry cell phones in their backpacks but not to use them during the school day. Some districts, such as in Philadelphia schools, allow principals to make their own decisions.
The best cell phone policies in schools are those that are able to fulfill parents’ needs to stay in touch with their children while still maintaining the appropriate educational environment. Enforcing these policies continues to be an issue for educators, as oftentimes when a cell phone rings during a class, it’s the parent who is on the other end of the conversation.